Lewis Thomas, in Lives of a Cell, discoursed on death from the viewpoint of a biologist. He noted, “At the very center of the problem is the naked cold deadness of one’s own self, the only reality in nature of which we can have absolute certainty, and it is unmentionable, unthinkable. We like to think…we can avoid the problem if we just become, next year, say, a bit smarter.”
We have the notion that, “Oh, well. We can figure this out and get beyond it. It just won’t happen to me.” We are guilty of what Ernest Becker called the Denial of Death. In his book with that title, he argued that that civilization was organized for the purpose of denying our mortality, that it is a complicated contrivance designed merely for burying our head in the sand regarding our eventual demise, our eventual return to the dust from which we are created. (I like Hamlet’s bemused observations about us being merely worm food.)
So, what do we do with this problem? Well, we wrestle with it as best as we can. Here, in my daily perambulations, you get some glimpse of one person’s doubt and insecurities…and hope…regarding this issue. A key source of hope for me has been to realize that death is merely part of life and that death is an issue that can be addressed before the actual physical death. By that I mean that we can die before we die, that the real issue in our fear of death is the fear of the ego’s death, and that we can let the ego die long before our physical death. Irvin Yalom argued decades ago that those who fear death fear life and only through the death of their ego can they embrace life and live life to the fullest.
James Hillman had a relevant belief re suicide. He was a Jungian therapist and he shared in Suicide and the Soul re one client who was suicidal. He told the client…and I paraphrase…”So you want to die. You come to me and I will help you die. But, you have to promise me that in the meantime you will not physically harm yourself.” Hillman believed that the suicidal impulse was often a misguided impulse from the heart, that the wish to die, if handled delicately and with spiritual guidance, could be the doorway to eternal life.